Questions about the value of higher education aren’t new. In the middle of the 20th Century, young people could regularly step into a well-paying factory job as soon as they graduated from high school. “What will I gain financially from a college education?” that generation often asked.
Today there are far fewer of those factory jobs, and a college education is a prerequisite for many careers. Yet we hear young people who have joined the Occupy Wall Street movement continue to ask, “What have I gained from an education that has left me with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and still no job?”
A first answer is contained in a 2011 study comparing $100,000 investment in higher education to alternative investments in other options. Historically, the rate of return on a bachelor’s degree has been 15 percent — more than double the alternative of investing in stocks and more than five times the rate of return on bonds, gold, treasuries and housing.
So a college degree still pays. But a college education in the 21st Century must do far more than prepare for productive employment. It must prepare students for change; a 21st Century education must be an education for life.
That is why I am particularly proud that Robert Dayley, a professor of political economy here at The College of Idaho, has been recognized by the Carnegie Foundation as the 2011 Idaho Professor of the Year (C of I’s fourth recipient of this prestigious honor in the last six years). Professor Dayley understood that higher education must evolve if it is to remain a valuable investment, and three years ago, with the help of his colleagues, set about designing a new curriculum for our college.
Two years ago, C of I launched this new curriculum, which we call PEAK. In this curriculum, each student earns a major and three minors spread across four “peaks” of knowledge — natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences and history, fine arts and humanities, and professional enhancements.
Our world desperately needs people who have knowledge of science and technology but who also understand how human society works and possess developed creative abilities. This is the genius of the curriculum which Professor Dayley helped create at the College — a broad yet deep education that also enables students to shape their experience and pursue individual passions.
PEAK is in its infancy and we still are learning how to make this new curriculum even more effective. What is abundantly clear, however, is that the old model of higher education is broken.
Young people and their families invest tremendous time, energy and money into college. They have every right to expect an education that will prepare for more than a single career, for more than the next five years. They should expect an education that will enable them to understand, analyze and develop solutions to the challenges — both at present and in the future — facing us in Idaho, as a nation and as a global community.
- Marvin Henberg is president of The College of Idaho.